Our Predictions In The Jewellery Category Of The 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Our Panelists Have A Favorite But Miss The Human Touch
Welcome to the 2021 edition of Quill & Pad’s early Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève predictions in which the team picks favorites and explains why.
The panelists are:
Elizabeth Doerr (ED), co-founder and editor-in-chief
Ian Skellern (IS), co-founder and technical director
Joshua Munchow (JM), resident nerd writer
GaryG (GG), resident collector
Martin Green (MG), resident gentleman
The GPHG foundation’s rules for the Jewellery category state that the watches must demonstrate exceptional mastery of the art of jewelry and gem setting. These timepieces are also distinguished by the choice of stones featured in them.
ED: This is for me the hardest category to judge without handling the watches. As they are all either unique pieces or unbelievably expensive, the jury room is generally the only place I have ever been able to freely inspect these watches – and the experience was invaluable in terms of being able to compare, contrast, and evaluate. And personal preference is often queen here. From relatively lifeless photos, it is unbelievably hard to evaluate these watches.
GG: Finally, a category I know something about! Just kidding, of course – it’s time for my annual disclaimer that I’m no expert in jewel quality or gem setting, that perhaps more than for the other categories it’s important to see these pieces in person, and that I’m left simply to opine on what looks good to me, which may not be an entirely bad thing now that I think of it. I’ll also declare my usual amnesty on criticizing quartz-movement watches in this category.
MG: Normally this is one of my favorite categories as I have a passion for gemstone-set watches, but this year I am not feeling it. The style of many of the watches is abundant but lacks, in my opinion, a certain cohesion.
IS: Jewelry (and Artistic Crafts) is the most difficult category to judge. I can usually bluff through my technical inadequacies behind having handled the watches in the real world, but here even that’s frustrated by my even more inadequate knowledge of jewelry. Plus I’ve abundant knowledge of just how important tactility is with jewelry watches.
I’m not going to penalize quartz watches here (well, I’ve a gripe about one) because the movement is secondary in these pieces: its job is just not getting in the way of the all-encompassing gemstone extravaganza that surrounds it.
JM: Ahh, the jewelry category, where style and personal preference are huge factors in deciding what pieces are worthy of recognition, but also where technical knowledge of the various jewelry techniques helps a ton in understanding just what you are looking at.
Only in the last few years have I finally learned enough to judge the creativity and craftsmanship of the settings and stone choice, though I am still a woeful amateur, all the while not being the intended sales demographic. Still, I find a lot of joy and excitement looking at these works of art and have strong opinions when it comes to aesthetics.
This year we see a category that is full of “jewelry first” pieces, and surprisingly the more watch-centric pieces didn’t make it into the nominated selection so this is truly a category of jewels and precious metals that happen to have a timepiece included. I’m interested to see how the jury runs with that.
Bulgari Serpenti Barocko
ED: Bulgari has won this category in the past, including 2019, often with high-jewelry variations of the Serpenti. This year’s entry is again more like a piece of jewelry that tells the time. If you’ve ever put a piece like this on your wrist, you’ll know that there is hardly another feeling like it in the world: the stones and gold feel exciting as they warm up to skin temperature.
Wearing a piece like this is pure pleasure. Not to mention the craftsmanship: cutting and setting the stones in this piece required 600 hours of work.
MG: These days, brands feel a need to create an abundance of different versions within a certain theme of their collection. However, that often also means that they move further away from the initial idea. This is the case with the Serpenti Barocko, which is a bracelet with a snake’s head attached to it. It doesn’t look very much like the body of the animal, so the whole effect that made this collection from Bulgari once so amazing is gone here.
The design is so abundant that it feels like a system overload of all the different colored gemstones set in overly rich-looking pink gold.
ED: Yes, Martin, it is a cuff watch rather than the usual serpent with its many coils, but it is so beautifully ornate with such utterly fascinating and unusual gemstones that it has won my heart. I also love that it’s not “snowing.” That look is always too much for me. And according to Bulgari it is still flexible. I wish we could have seen and touched this one.
JM: The Bulgari Serpenti collection has always been a strong contender when it is present in the Jewelry category mainly due to its silky feeling when wrapped around the wrist combined with the sheer opulence of the settings. This year the settings and stone choices are definitely opulent, but the baroque aesthetic is much more niche when it comes to the intended audience.
The individual links of the bracelet are much more complicated as well as longer, meaning it may not fit as nicely (must try it on first) and the settings on the bracelet may feel less integrated thanks to that complicated link shape. I worry that this piece will look astonishing but feel a bit clunky or chunky and that could turn people off.
For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel the Bulgari Serpenti is a frontrunner and other entries are more deserving of the top spot.
ED: I would want to say that looks are deceiving this time, Joshua. I have not met a Serpenti yet that didn’t feel as smooth as silk.
GG: To get through this category, I used a process of elimination. First out was the Bulgari Serpenti Barocko. It’s baroque, all right! If ever the term “wretched excess” could be used to describe a jeweled watch, a photo of this piece could be used as a prime example.
IS: Having had a few Bulgari Serpentis around my arm and wrist, I can attest to how incredibly seductive they are to manipulate and touch. The workmanship is simply exemplary. And I love this colorful Barocko Serpenti; it makes me smile. It could easily be a winner here, but I’m picking it as my close runner-up because we have seen quite a few Serpentis here over the years and I want to give a fresher entry more of a chance.
Further reading: Bulgari’s Beloved Serpenti: A Brief History
Quick Facts Bulgari Serpenti Barocko
Case: 15 x 7.89 mm, pink gold
Gem setting: 52.44 ct
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: one unique piece
Price: CHF 955,000
Chanel Mademoiselle Privé Bouton Décor Byzantin
GG: The Chanel Mademoiselle Privé Bouton décor Byzantin ring watch is also based on an older design, but for whatever reason it works for me. I’ve always liked the idea of ring watches, and this one looks to be beautifully executed. The yellow gold is a nice nod to the past as well and provides visual contrast, but for me a cleaner white gold or platinum implementation might make this piece even prettier.
ED: I am usually a big fan of ring watches too, Gary, and I like this one with its Byzantine-inspired theme. The quartz movement does turn me off, though. We know that small mechanical movements do fit in ring watches, though I realize I am nitpicking with that.
JM: I love secret ring watches because they combine small design with incredible jewels and the element of secrecy. This piece looks simply like a marvelously diamond-studded ring but opens to reveal a watch (a common theme in jewelry timepieces) via a button crafted into the ring and stone settings.
Normally I would ultimately discount a piece like this because it uses a quartz movement, but since none of the nominated watches have mechanical movements (a serious oversight within a horology competition) I can say that it is one of my favorite pieces in this category. It still is pretty niche so likely won’t win, but it is my runner-up in case my top choice misses out.
IS: The Chanel Mademoiselle Privé Bouton Décor Byzantin is a beautifully bejeweled ring watch, it looks absolutely stunning. However, while a ring watch is unusual – and not following the herd is a plus for me – I think it might be too unusual, too niche for the jury. I think it will go for something more traditional.
MG: Chanel is most on par with a beautifully designed ring watch opting for the classic combination of colorless brilliant-cut diamonds with yellow gold. The snow setting on the base of the ring is superb, while the designers used the top to highlight larger, more precious stones. The bezel gives texture and depth to the design.
Also, note how the dial is placed deep within the ring and the side where the cover opens. All this is cleverly positioned so that the lady who wears this need only move her hand in the same way as if she were checking her wristwatch and flick it open. A very elegant gesture.
Quick Facts Chanel Mademoiselle Privé Bouton Décor Byzantin
Case: 33.85 x 25.9 mm, yellow gold
Gem setting: large cushion-cut diamond on lid, Byzantine-inspired motif in brilliant-, pear- and cushion-cut diamonds totaling 10.97 ct
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 5 pieces
Price: 301,750 Swiss francs
Chopard Flower Power
GG: I’m generally a big fan of Chopard’s jeweled pieces, and the Flower Power certainly brings the goods with ornate displays of diamonds and pink sapphires. And while it’s certainly not as florid as the Bulgari or antiquated as the Van Cleef, overall it seems just too fussy for me and perhaps a bit “old.”
ED: Aw, I can usually count on Chopard to have a highly jeweled watch combined with a mechanical movement in this category, but unfortunately not this year.
MG: While extraordinarily well made, it is the setup of the flowers on this watch that doesn’t work for me. By accentuating the dial with two gemstone flowers to the left and right of it, its petals represented by pink sapphires, you put too much focus on this part of the watch.
Much more elegant would have been to just keep the three-row design like the rest of the watch. This would have offered a much cleaner look with more focus on the dial itself, elevating the design as a whole.
JM: The Chopard Flower Power is the second explicitly stated baroque-inspired design and it shows. And not in the best way. Flower Power is essentially a bracelet made of diamond and sapphire flowers, all of which are absolutely beautiful, but as a whole the piece lacks an aesthetic refinement that I would want to see in a full bracelet piece.
Stylewise I am certain there will be many fans as it truly is a stunning assortment of stones and settings, but it falls short when seen in context with the other pieces in this category. The styles are so diverse that it is easy to hone in on what you prefer, and this isn’t it for me. The craftsmanship is clearly excellent, I’m just struggling to be as excited about this piece as others.
IS: I’m surprised, even for a stunningly jeweled watch in a jewelry category, that Chopard didn’t include a mechanical movement in a $500,000 watch. That would have been the icing on the cake for me. It says something to my head about just how much the Chopard brand has transformed over the decades from a serious jewelry brand that made watches to a serious watch brand that makes (serious) jewelry. I will not penalize any other brand here for a quartz movement, but I’m disappointed in Chopard: I hold the brand in higher esteem than that.
The Chopard Flower Power looks sensational and while I might think of Chopard as a mechanical watch brand, jewelry is its blood, a domain in which it excels. I think Flower Power will be a serious contender, but it’s not my pick for the top spot.
Quick Facts Chopard Flower Power
Case: 19.6 x 7 mm, ethical white gold
Gem setting: pink sapphires and pear-shaped and brilliant-cut diamonds assembled into subtle flower garlands totaling around 30 ct; 12 pink sapphires on dial; total 44.576 ct
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: one unique piece
Price: 489,000 Swiss francs
Hermès Kelly Joaillerie
GG: I do appreciate the Hermès Kelly Joallerie! The all-diamond look is quite clean and keeps the ornate bracelet design from seeming too fussy in my view. And the versatility of the piece with the accompanying diamond-set sautoir necklace and leather pendant providing options for wearing the “lock” watch is another plus for me. This one finishes second in a photo finish to the Piaget this time, but I’m sure there is a happy future owner out there somewhere!
JM: If you like diamonds then this piece is for you. But if you want some color or contrast, you’ll need to look elsewhere. The Kelly Joaillerie is a marvelous piece of stone setting with hundreds of bezel-set diamonds, 57 of which are square princess cut, all in a very geometric pattern. In the middle of the cuff is a diamond-set padlock that can be removed and worn on an accompanying necklace for the option to dress it down or up.
Knowing Hermès, the settings and quality are top notch, but the lack of contrast or color makes it feel as if it is missing an element. Many will love the all-white aesthetic, and I know it is perfect when that is what you want, but I miss any hint of something to break up the diamonds with a pop of color. I can imagine this one being well supported by the jury, but in my mind it disappears into the background without that attention-grabbing element.
IS: As a piece of horological jewelry, the Hermès Kelly Joaillerie is just sensational. If the budget stretches and you have the occasion to merit an ensemble featuring the Kelly Joallerie on your wrist, I can’t imagine anything else being noticed.
It’s bling with class!
And the versatility of the watch lock is a nice touch: it also looks good on a necklace. But that bracelet: WOW! It’s not my pick for winner, but I think the Hermès Kelly Joaillerie will have many fans in the jury . . . and around the world.
ED: Inspired by the Kelly bag, this high-jewelry Kelly watch is loads of fun as it is not only beautifully set with diamonds but the time-telling padlock (which is actually the watch) is also removable so it can be put on a chain (sautoir comes with), a leather pocket made of black alligator skin for an actual “wristwatch” feeling (also comes with), or anything else that the wearer likes during the daytime. At night that gorgeous bracelet can come out and play!
MG: I have never been a fan of the padlock-type watches, and that goes for this Hermès too. The padlock moves with the wearer’s arm so that the look is never right, and even the lacework of white gold and diamonds cannot help this. I think that the padlock watch looks better as a necklace and that the bracelet simply should be worn without the watch.
Quick Facts Hermès Kelly Joaillerie
Case: 16.2 x 7.85 mm, white gold
Gem setting: 430 brilliant-cut diamonds and 57 princess-cut diamonds on the bracelet; 232 brilliant-cut diamonds and three princess-cut diamonds on the padlock; 111 bead-set brilliant-cut diamonds and 10 bezel-set princess-cut diamonds on the sautoir; total 21.72 ct
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: one unique piece
Price: 496,700 Swiss francs
Piaget Exquisite Moments Watch
ED: A very unimaginative name heralds an exquisitely diamond-set timepiece that incidentally houses a barely-there timepiece. Really lovely piece of jewelry.
MG: This Piaget looks almost like a controller of a game console: press the left fancy vivid yellow diamond for turbo boost and the right to fire rockets. To me it never made sense to put such exquisite stones in a watch with an abundance of colorless diamonds. Stones of this size and quality can rarely be incorporated in a watch in such a way that it pays tribute to their true beauty and a cohesive design.
This Piaget is not doing that, either, and would have been a better watch if the space where the fancy vivid yellow diamonds are was filled in with continuous diamond setting as I find that texture very pleasing.
IS: The design just works for me, the seductive shape is refreshingly uncommon. And it looks every bit the $3 million it costs. Money may not be able to buy love, but it can sure fund excellence and the Exquisite Moments Watch lives up to its hype. Even against this strong competition, the Piaget is bringing a (dazzling) gun to a knife fight. The Piaget Exquisite Moments Watch is my pick to win this category.
Video is a much appreciated complement to the media as judging these photos by flat photos is often a crap shoot. A video of the object would at least allow us to imagine in three dimensions how the gems sparkle. But, disappointingly, Piaget’s video simply features scans of photos.
JM: Even though this watch is 2.8 million Swiss francs, is it my chosen winner for this year. I know it is mostly diamonds (like the Hermès piece) but it has a pop of color with the two cushion-cut fancy vivid yellow diamonds to really draw attention to the overall design. It’s also a bracelet like nearly all the others, but the settings and cleanliness of the design show how smooth and comfortable this piece will be. Plus the design of the structure is intriguing instead of just being a scaffolding to hold the stones, something that I see overlooked at times with other pieces. Finally, most of the diamonds on the bracelet are marquise cut, something not easy to fit together into a smooth design, and this watch achieved just that. With the gentle curves of the bracelet and the stone settings all combined with the pop of yellow, this piece is both grandiose and understated, a fantastic example of cohesive idea between the designer, stone cutters, setters, and goldsmiths.
GG: Once I knocked out the others, I was left with the two cleaner-looking, diamond-only pieces, although neither is exactly plain! The Piaget Exquisite Moments is all about those two Fancy Vivid Yellow diamonds; well, that and the zillion pavé white diamonds that clothe the cuff.
In person this might just blow away all of the other pieces in this category, but from the photos I’m not quite sure whether the top-heavy design of the cuff is a benefit or a limitation when seen on the wrist. I’ve gone back and forth between it and the Hermès, but I’ll make a last-second call and declare this one my winner.
Quick Facts Piaget Exquisite Moments Watch
Case: 36 x 84 x 68 mm, white gold
Gem setting: 2 fancy vivid yellow diamonds and an unspecified multitude of pear-cut colorless diamonds, totaling 99.164 ct
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: one unique piece
Price: 2,8500,000 Swiss francs
Van Cleef & Arpels Ludo Secret Watch
MG: Less is more, and while this is not the category of the GPHG to pay attention to that credo, sometimes you still should. The Ludo is one of the most emblematic designs of Van Cleef & Arpels, but it loses so much of its charm under this abundance of gemstones. Yes, I know that there is historic precedence at Van Cleef & Arpels for this style, but it is okay sometimes to let the past rest.
ED: Last year I said the Van Cleef & Arpels Frivole Secrète would not win because it wasn’t set with enough gems. Boy, was I wrong. It won! That has taught me not to rule something out because it has fewer sparklers than the other entrants.
Here we have another Van Cleef & Arpels secret watch, which is far less gem set than the other entries in this category by a long shot with the exception of the Chanel ring watch, whose total surface is small. However, it is cute. And like the Hermès Kelly the quartz watch can be removed from the bracelet and worn on a chain or a brooch.
Depending on where you are wearing this, that’s a really good option. But if you’re going full-on glam – which is what I expect of the people who buy the entrants in this category – then it’s just not enough for me. Not even in one of the other two color schemes this watch can be acquired in.
GG: Everything old is new again, but not all vintage designs are timeless. A case in point for me is the Van Cleef & Arpels Ludo secret watch, which is based on one of the maison’s designs from the 1930s. To my eye it doesn’t translate well for contemporary tastes.
IS: The Jewellery Category is all about making a big-night-out statement, and the Van Cleef & Arpels Ludo Secret Watch makes a statement you will not miss: wild colors, wild gemstones, and wild style! But the look seems a bit dated to me. It may be deliberately retro, but it doesn’t look timeless, and at these stratospheric levels I expect timelessness.
JM: This is a fun watch that relies less on stones and is more all-encompassing jewelry compared to the other pieces. It plays with different settings, cuts, stones, and uses setting style within the aesthetic direction to create something dramatically different than the other nominated watches. The watch portion also can detach and be worn as a pendant, similar to the Hermès piece, but this one has flair and color.
The main thing that keeps this one from being stronger is the decidedly Art Deco styling and somewhat dated design choices. The Ludo Secret Watch feels like a piece pulled out of a vault after 70-90 years, not a piece produced in this decade. Some may love that, but for me it separates it from the others and draws away from its elegance. I love the variety it represents, especially with stone choice and settings (like the massive lapis lazuli cabochon in the center) but I fear it will be less broadly appealing and may suffer from the jury. Van Cleef & Arpels has submitted many incredible pieces in the past, but this feels weaker in context of the competitors.
Quick Facts Van Cleef & Arpels Ludo Secret Watch
Case: 30 x 10.9 mm, yellow gold
Gem setting: blue sapphires, pink sapphires, and colorless diamonds of varying sizes and shapes, 1 lapis lazuli cabochon; total 17.46 ct
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: 245,000 Swiss francs
Elizabeth: Bulgari Serpenti Barocko
Gary: Piaget Exquisite Moments Watch
Ian: : Piaget Exquisite Moments Watch
Joshua: Piaget Exquisite Moments Watch
Martin: Chanel Mademoiselle Privé Bouton Décor Byzantin